SEATTLE (AP) — George Hickman, one of the original Tuskegee airmen and a longtime usher at University of Washington and Seattle Seahawks games, has died at age 88.
His wife, Doris, confirmed Monday that he died early Sunday morning in Seattle.
Hickman was one of the country’s first black military pilots and ground crew members who fought in World War II.
In 2007, he and other Tuskegee airmen traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2009, he attended President Barack Obama‘s inauguration as a special guest.
Hickman was a fixture at Seattle sporting events. He personalized the often anonymous job of ushering fans to their seats, and most regulars to UW basketball and football games knew him by first name. He was perhaps the best known person at Husky Stadium.
“Things will be a little different right before we go out on the court not being able to shake the hand of George Hickman,” UW basketball coach Lorenzo Romar tweeted Monday.
UW football coach Steve Sarkisian also tweeted: “He represented the UW and the Tuskegee Airmen with class. I will always appreciate how he treated my family.”
“He was just a wonderful man,” Doris Hickman said Monday of her husband.
The grandson of slaves, Hickman nurtured an interest in aviation as a curious boy gazing up at the sky above St. Louis.
That passion evolved from buying cheap model airplanes to joining the segregated pilot training program in Tuskegee, Alabama, and later to a nearly three-decade long career at Boeing in Seattle.
He served in the Army Air Corps from 1943-45, which trained African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft, and was part of the graduating class of 1944, according to an Army profile. He graduated from the airman program as a crewman and served in Europe as a flight mechanic during WWII.
“There was nothing better in the world. In that biplane, the guy wires between the wings were like musical instruments,” he told the News Tribune of Tacoma in a 2011 interview.
But he also recalled in a 2009 Associated Press interview the humiliation of being pushed off sidewalks in the South and spit at while in uniform.
As a cadet captain, he was effectively blocked from flying when he called out white superior officers for the mistreatment of a fellow black cadet. “I felt like I had really been mistreated,” he told the AP.
In 1955, he met and married his wife in Amarillo, Texas, while volunteering with her mother at a local library, according to an Army profile.
Doris Hickman was drawn to her husband’s character when they first met.
He moved to Seattle in 1995 to work for Boeing and ultimately was in charge of accounting Boeing training equipment. He retired in 1984.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.